It’s January and the sales are in full swing. You might even have found yourself walking out of a shop with something you didn’t really want but felt you couldn’t resist. Dan* would find himself in that position too, but it wasn’t because of New Year sales. It was because of kleptomania, and it was happening all year round.
“I’ve had a spell of it a few of years ago” he told me “but I thought I’d got over it. The last three or four months though it’s started up again. I was in a shop buying a newspaper and cigarettes, and as the woman turned around I stole a Crunchie. And I couldn’t tell you now why I did it. I don’t even like Crunchies – it went straight in the bin outside.”
“Since then it’s been getting steadily worse. Newsagents, petrol stations, chemists, supermarkets, DIY place, even a pet shop. And it’s not that I can’t afford what I take, or even need it half the time. In fact, most of the time it’s because I feel compelled to take something rather than the thing itself. I took two kitten toys in the pet shop and we’ve got a dog.”
Kleptomania is comparatively rare, and it’s seen quite often as an attempted defence for shoplifting or theft. Kleptomania is very different to intentional theft though, and Dan was showing all of the classic signs.
He wasn’t stealing items because he needed them or because of their value; before the theft he experienced heightened tension; during the theft he was in what he described as ‘a trance’; and afterwards he felt relief and pleasure, followed later by guilt and shame.
The guilt and shame that always followed Dan’s thefts were a sign as well that what he was doing was in conflict with his normal values and behaviour. His everyday life, both at home and at work, were stable and contained no other kind of anti-social of criminal behaviour.
“I’d be so embarrassed if I was caught” Dan told me “how could I face my friends and neighbours? They’d all think I was a thief, that they were in danger if I came round. And what would I tell my wife and children? That I’m dishonest, or that I’m weak? What’s wrong with me that no matter the risk or the consequences I can’t stop myself?”
Dan was being unfair on himself with those last comments. He wasn’t dishonest – the rest of his daily life and behaviour showed that. He wasn’t weak either. Kleptomania is one way of people meeting unconscious emotional needs. Trying to use logical reasoning to stop that emotional thinking was destined to failure.
What we did was to use the mental state that he got into before and during an episode of stealing. He’d already described this as a ‘trance’ so I introduced him in hypnosis to a different experience of trance – one where he was in charge and stayed in charge. This let him to feel in control from the anticipation onwards, and to make different choices.
At the same time we explored what the needs were that he was trying to meet through stealing. Once he realised what these were I helped Dan to find new ways to meet them, ways that didn’t involve stealing or buying things. It’s the hypnosis that stopped the stealing, but it was meeting those needs that stopped it coming back for a third time.
* Dan’s real identity has been protected, and he is happy to share his story.
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